Thursday, February 17, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Russian Nationalism Didn’t Destroy the Soviet Union and Won’t Destroy the Russian Federation, Kholmogorov Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 17 – The opponents of Russian nationalists often assert that the rise of Russian nationalism will generate anti-Russian nationalism among the country’s increasingly numerous minorities and lead to the disintegration of the country, just as these analysts say the rise of Russian nationalism contributed to the destruction of the USSR.

But according to a “Russky obozrevatel’” commentary by Yegor Kholmogorov, a leading Russian nationalist writer, this argument is false: Russian nationalists were not responsible for the demise of the Soviet Union, and they will not be responsible for any future disintegration of the Russian Federation (

Kholmogorov notes that there is “a widely disseminated and frequently used argument against Russian nationalism” that runs more or less as follows: “At the end of perestroika, when people demanded for Russia its own communist party and its own Academy of Sciences, Valentin Rasputin [proposed] that the RSFSR leave the Union.”

“These suggestions,” the current argument runs, “destroyed the USSR and left everyone, especially the [ethnic] Russians in an even worse position. Now again, similar talk that [ethnic] Russians are nowhere represented and that the Russians have nothing is taking place.” That will lead to the disintegration of the Federation, “and worst off of all will again be the Russians.”

This argument, clearly designed to frighten Russians from supporting the nationalist cause, Kholmogorov says, is false both historically and as a description of the future. According to the writer, it wasn’t the Russian nationalists who split the USSR but rather “the Balts, Georgians and then the Ukrainian nationalists … who were protected by [Mikhail] Gorbachev.”

“By the beginning of 1991,” Kholmogorov notes, “the power of the USSR in fact did not exist on the territory of the Baltic states, the Transcaucasus and Moldova,” and “the most shameful role” was played not by the Russians but by residents of major cities who put their economic interests above ethnic ones.

During perestroika, he continues, “Russian patriots began to speak about the inequality of ethnic Russians in the USSR when it became obvious that republic nationalists were using the infrastructure of Soviet quasi-independence for the destruction of the USSR” and when the Russians turned out to be “the single major people” who lacked means to defend their interests.

Because of what he calls the deprivation of the subject status of the Russians at the end of Soviet times, “the Russians turned out to be a second class people.” Although a majority in the Soviet Union as well as in the Russian Federation, they were “deprived of their statehood” and became “a people without rights.”

Consequently, the Russian nationalist commentator argues, “when Russian nationalists speak of the need to recognize the state-forming role of the Russian people … the need to create real instruments for taking its opinions into account and the defense of its interests, we are starting from the proposition thaqt only this will represent a real guarantee against collapse.”

If “someone plans” to split apart the Russian Federation into a number of parts, he argues, it is even more important that the Russians have such instruments because otherwise, if their current country disappears, “namely the Russians will turn out to have the fewest rights, to be the most oppressed, terrorized and enslaved people” on some future newly independent states.

“In this way,” Kholmogorov says, “the [ethnic] Russian people has an interest in its strength and rights both under a scenario of the further existence of the Russian Federation and under a scenario of its collapse.” Russians must be strong “to preserve Russia” and, if the country comes apart any way, to prevent become “victims of anti-Russian terror.”

If Russians do not organize and demand their rights, he adds, “the Russian Federation will collapse because its own citizens will not be interested in its existence” and then there will take place “on the remnants of the Russian Federation an enormous genocide of Russians, a genocide of such proportions that history has never before known.”

Consequently, regardless of what the future holds, Kholmogorov argues, “the strengthening of the influence of ethnic Russians in Russia, the establishment of institutional instruments of realizing the sovereignty of the Russian people is the only means of defense not only of the worth and prestige but also the property and life of representatives of this people.”

And Kholmogorov ends with an appeal: “Russian,” he says, “if you do not become a Russian nationalist today, then tomorrow they will come to kill you!”

Kholmogorov’s argument is clearly over the top, but it is important for three reasons. First, it shows that at least some Russian nationalists are thinking about coping with a situation in which the Russian Federation may not survive in its current borders. Second, it shows that the Moscow regime is drawing on an old argument about the end of the USSR to oppose them.

And third, his words underscore just how overheated the Russian nationalist milieu has become, a development that may have exactly the opposite set of consequences he intends given that Kholmogorov’s argument is going to be heard not only by other ethnic Russians and the Russian regime but also by the non-Russians currently within the borders of that country.

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